Personality of Place

Reading the image of a city with Kevin A. Lynch (part 4 of ?)

Music to read with / 1 / 2

In the first part of this series, I came to the conclusion that the “village” was the most appropriate division for dividing and analyzing psychological space. We often see campuses, city centers, suburbs, and neighborhoods (up to a certain size) as being one homogeneous unit. “Villages” are these places that have neighborhood like characteristics.

Cities are composed of hundreds or thousands of these units. The differences between these units can be recorded and analyzed. Sounds, smells, sights, and other environmental conditions all impact the human psyche. The environment can wreck havoc, it can repair a broken mind, or it can seem invisible and ineffectual. Interaction with the environment is caused equally by the observed and the observer: the human mind, and the environment (both the built environment and the natural environment).

I will try to differentiate these two from now on because I’ve realized this is an important distinction to make. I will call the human-constructed environment “place” and the natural environment “space”.

Villages take on the personality of those who frequent them. Feminine villages are enjoyed more thoroughly by feminine personalities. Masculine villages are enjoyed more by masculine personalities. They feel more comfortable in the village because the irritating features which previously existed in the space have been removed or modified (due to personality differences).

The common areas of villages are the least irritating to the average of all personalities that frequent the village (they are modified due to complaints, retroflection, and inclusion). The most commonly visited villages in a city also build down to a common ground due to the probability distribution of complaints, suggestions to reduce irritating features, and people feeling like they have no ownership over the place.

Places can have infinite characteristics because they are extensions of the spatial-linguistic model of our brain. We interact with spaces to create places. These places evolve as our brain gestates. Interactions with our environment are simple but they grow to complexity over time. A simple calculator is a rearrangement of space that humans have formed into a small place for us to interact with in very specific ways to achieve specific goals. In fact, the calculator itself is following instructions to move electricity from “unstructured” space into arrangements of pre-determined place.

Why do we build? Our built environments have functions and interfaces that we can use to access those functions, yes, but I think the main reason that we “create” an environment is so that we can understand it. We can give meaning to it and it can drive us forward with advancement in technology. The natural world is not always easy to understand, but the human world is all understood. So we bring the natural world into the human world to study it. We manipulate it until it is understood and then we add it to the human world and mass-produce it until it is commonplace.

The built environment is an extension of the human species. Other animals adapt to the environment but we have created an environment that wraps around us. It is invisible but we could not be more trapped inside of it. Yet, without it we wouldn’t be able to live in many places. Mars, the international space station, even closer to home in Sakha, Greenland, or the middle of the ocean. The built environment wraps around us and keeps us afloat above the stormy sea.

Because there are infinite characteristics which could be measured in the environment I want to focus on the most meaningful ones, the characteristics people are most curious about when choosing a place to go on vacation, the characteristics that psychologists have found to be statistically significant. Prioritizing these characteristics is difficult because each are pretty important and a lot of them build off each other to be practically significant. While compiling this list, I tried to keep in mind the public data sources that I could use to implement it at a global scale.

I will try to organize the shallow characteristics around the “Big Five” personality traits so that we have some structure for organization.

  1. Openness to experience (inventive/curious vs. consistent/cautious)

    • potential factors:

      • was the village architecturally unified or diverse? \ did the village feel unified or diverse?

      • material choice / quality

      • weather

      • confusing/straightforward navigation \ wayfinding

  2. Conscientiousness (efficient/organized vs. easy-going/careless)

    • potential factors:

      • cleanliness

      • loud vs quiet

      • material choice / quality

      • confusing/straightforward navigation \ wayfinding

  3. Extraversion (outgoing/energetic vs. solitary/reserved)

    • Extroverted villages sprawl. There are less paths internally but the village has more connections to other villages. Almost every path leads to another village. The internal flow of the village looks like global wind patterns with many people going to many different places. I’m not saying that extroverted villages themselves are chaotic, in fact, the opposite may be the case. Extroverted villages may have more strict aesthetic requirements in order to feel comfortable by the most frequent participants of the environment.

    • Introverted villages have many paths but often the paths go to the same places. There are fewer connections to the outside world. It is possible that there is only one entrance or exit path to other villages, but there is often at least two. The flow within the village is largely organized with circular motion or vertical direction.

    • Highways share characteristics with both extroverted and introverted villages but they are liminal and unifunctional spaces and so they can’t be analyzed in the same way. Highways are interesting though because they can be powerful portals between villages which can create a pilgrimage experience.

    • potential factors:

      • topography and geomorphology

      • height of buildings

      • building age of construction/renovation

      • landuse

        • many/few restaurants

        • many/few private business offices

        • many/few public exhibits

        • many/few shopping areas

  4. Agreeableness (friendly/compassionate vs. challenging/detached)

    • potential factors:

      • weather

      • colors

      • relaxing public places

      • cultural and spatial history

  5. Neuroticism (sensitive/nervous vs. secure/confident)

    • potential factors:

      • was there a lot of open space or closed and developed?

      • material choice / quality

      • block size

      • stressful environments

      • crime rate

      • weather

      • colors, infrastructure

      • relaxing architecture

To implement this system into my exploration website I will start asking users to rate (using a likert scale) their average personal experience with each specific environment right before they leave to their next village for more exploration.

Interviews show that ordinary buildings at route decision points are remembered clearly, while distinctive structures along a continuous route may have slipped into obscurity.

A landmark is yet stronger if visible over an extended range of time or distance, more useful if the direction of view can be distinguished. If identifiable from near and far, while moving rapidly or slowly, by night or day, it then becomes a stable anchor for the perception of the complex and shifting urban world.

An edge may be more than simply a dominant barrier if some visual or motion penetration is allowed through it—if it is, as it were, structured to some depth with the regions on either side. It then becomes a seam rather than a barrier, a line of exchange along which two areas are sewn together. If an important edge is provided with many visual and circulation connections to the rest of the city structure, then it becomes a feature to which everything else is easily aligned. One way of increasing the visibility of an edge is by increasing its accessibility or use, as when opening a waterfront to traffic or recreation. Another might be to construct high overhead edges, visible for long distances.

The essential characteristic of a viable landmark, on the other hand, is its singularity, its contrast with its context or image strength rises when the landmark coincides with a concentration of association. If the distinctive building is the scene of an historic event, or if the bright-colored door is your own, then it becomes a landmark indeed. Even the bestowal of a name has power, once that name is generally known and accepted. Indeed, if we are to make our environment meaningful, such a coincidence of association and image-ability is necessary.

Keven Lynch

We have to keep this in mind as we build systems which capture the image of a village.

The task given to art is to construct a new system of sense. Art ought to make the invisible visible and to develop ways to hear the inaudible. This does not mean that it requires some sort of preterhuman capacity of creativity or an acute sensibility for signs as portrayed in the novel, Smilla's Sense of Snow. As long as humans are linguistic beings, their bodies, which are the sources of their senses, too are coated with signifiers. The signifiers shrouding the body do not move around freely lacking certain orders. Instead, they are ordered and knotted around particular anchoring points—points de capiton. This order in itself represents both the possibility and limitation of the human.

It is an a historical fact that the formation of the senses of the human who uses words is governed by the influences of the order of the signifier, and nonetheless the order is always historical. For the mental and sensory system of a certain human being can be constituted only in his or her relation to the Other that embodies the symbolic order of the given period. The limitations of the time structure those of the subject, and the possibility of the subject sustains that of the time.

정혁현 (Jeong Hyeok-hyeon)

The transportation systems are very important creatures. They really prime us for how we will experience an environment. Our arrival to a place matters a lot. Much more than I thought before. Subway exits are really powerful. They make public transport more appealing to certain personalities. Buses do not offer quite the same “emerging out of a different place” feeling—but intercity bus terminals have a weak form of this feeling.

But there is something missing on the subway. It is a place that is often disconnected from the world above. You can’t get the same sense of places that you pass by. It can be difficult to know if you want to stop somewhere above because you never will see the “interesting thing” that would have prompted you to stop. To test this theory I rode the subway past a place that I didn’t know and I walked on the street following the same path that the subway took in the depths below. I was astonished to walk right next to a beach! It was an experience that I hadn’t expected. It was a completely different world. One that I couldn’t have predicted.

I'm not suggesting that walking on the beach has any qualities that make it always better than taking the subway. The beach and the subway are both places. With no context it is near impossible to say which one is better. The built environment already exists and it will well exist. Emotion, feeling, presence, and action depend not only on places but also upon the sequence of departure and arrival to those places. Like the editing of a good film or the timing of a joke.

It may be that all problems can be broken down into their spatial parts with complete subtlety. While it may not be beneficial in all cases, there is a surprising amount of complete reduction that is possible from breaking down complex problems and finding a simple spatial origin. But it is necessary that you understand the parts of the system while analyzing the system spatially because local interactions generate complex, emergent behaviors.

Thinking spatially has made it easier to think clearly. It is refreshing.

All conflicts seem to be anchored in disputes over either space or place. Whether it is the use and meaning of space or the deviance from rules which are created to protect place.

Modern businesses are built to address growing spatial problems. From 1989 to 2003 the modern search engine was born and refined. The search engine was necessary in order for us to be able to navigate the map-less, compressed place that is the internet. Search engines map the hyper-dense network graphs and re-organize them into a walkable place. Google’s goal was/is to record, analyze, and organize search paths. Facebook was created out of similar spatial concerns. Facemash was created in an effort to realign and reorient two dimensional visual data for comparative analysis of spacial aesthetics.

The internet itself has interesting spatial properties. All information is perceptually compacted into a dense, non-existent place. Through the operation of a browser all interaction is localized and it is peculiar to think about the flowing, leaking pipes of information, or the eyes that stare back collecting data. From the position of the human user, the browser is not very much different from a book. But in reality, the browser is the opposite of a book. All information is contained in towns far away until it is needed locally. When you read the browser you are in intimate contact with the town far away. The whole world is densified and enmeshed into a cube smaller than 1cm on any side.

The physical size of your computer does not accurately represent the size of the data that is on the internet. It does not grow over time. It only reflects the physical size of local storage, but even that is not a fair ruler for representing the internal size of data that could be contained within. Computers have been shrinking drastically in size as technologies are improved. What used to take a warehouse of space now is able to be reproduced within the space of a penny.